A friend and his family (spouse and two children) visited my home last Sunday. While it was great to see him and spend time with his family, their primary reason to visit was to meet Bernie. Bernie transcended expectations with his manners and interaction, especially since he’d never been around kids and has only been around a few “strangers.”
When they arrived, I turned them loose with only two admonitions: 1) Don’t let Bernie outside and 2) be careful of his tail.
I’ve been thinking since then about what I know and believe about cats and what I might tell others who either have or might acquire their own cat or kitten. The results is the following list:
1) Never declaw. (Liken it into amputating the first section of all your fingers.)
2) Never hit. (Cats don’t understand it and will avoid you rather than whatever behavior caused you to hit them.)
3) Learn about cat behavior. Different body types and coloring will have different general personalities and behaviors. (Remember these are generalities even for purebreds.)
4) Pay attention to what they like. Adapt your home and the toys/furniture you give them to avoid most problems. (You cannot “train” them out of natural behaviors.)
5) Provide clean litter boxes, one per cat and one more.
6) Provide fresh water. (Fountains sound great, but some cats won’t use them.)
7) Cats are carnivores. Feed the best quality high protein/grain free food that you can afford.
8) Be careful about people foods and medicines. Things people or dogs can eat or use will kill a cat.
9) If you have an indoor only cat with little or no exposure to other animals, do NOT vaccinate. Vaccination has been linked to cancers and other health problems.
10) If you must vaccinate, ask for a titter test to verify whether or not re-vaccination is necessary first. If antibodies exist, don’t do it.
11) Always spay or neuter adults (or kittens over five pounds). (Adopting kittens is getting harder and harder to do because fewer and fewer are available. That is good news for cats in general, but frustrating for adopters. Consider an older cat or, as a last resort, a purebred. Expect to pay a minimum of $1,200 for a kitten from a reputable breeder.)
12) Cat companionship is complicated. Cats DEMAND respect and the quickest way to alienate a cat is expecting submission. You are adding a family member and making a friend. You need to get to know one another and your interactions can be weighted by the cat’s previous experiences, individual needs and personality.
13) Redirect “bad” behavior. Praise “good” (desirable) behavior. Save extremes like shouting or a spray bottle for emergencies. (For example, place a scratching tree or pad wherever the cat is not supposed to scratch. Move him to the scratching post and praise.)
14) Finally, spend the time. Play, cuddle and hangout together whenever you can. (I’ve had dogs and cats, sometimes together. I’ve loved them all, but my favorite dog was the most cat-like Pomeranian I’ve ever found.)